When Virtual Activism Causes Hardship to Non-Virtual People

I’ve debated in my own mind how to write this, because I don’t want to sound like I’m judging people’s intentions. But there comes a time when there comes a chasm between truth and untruth, and between real life and life that becomes in practice an unintended satire. We have reached that point.

I’m speaking today about virtual activism, which has become extremely popular with the advent of social media. It used to be that when people were passionate about something, they went out and did something about it. If you wanted to save the dolphins, you might do anything from boycotting fish products that also killed dolphins in their nets, all the way to getting on a zodiac in the middle of the ocean and interfering with fishing vessels. (This is just an example. I’m not a Greenpeace activist.) Those days for many people are largely gone. Now, when someone wants to be an activist, they share an often misguided Facebook post full of half-truths or flat out lies, or they might tweet a hashtag. These are all attempts to sway public opinion, which is fine. But that’s where it ends. The event that bothered me more than most others was when over two hundred schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria. They oppose Christians and western education. They raid villages, kill anyone who will not convert to Islam, and kidnap the women and children to put them up for sale as slaves. A hashtag was created called #bringourgirlsback. For people who feel powerless to do anything about a situation 5000 miles away, it’s something. But when Michelle Obama got involved, with her sad picture holding up the sign with the hashtag, it truly was nothing. If only she, I don’t know, slept next to someone every night with the power and resources to do something about it……  It’s now been over six months, and none of the girls have been returned. The United States sent “advisors” to help. There’s quite a bit of arrogance to sending advisors to a nation that deals with this kind of event literally almost every day. Exactly what were we going to advise?

Which brings me to my point. As we have become more insular and self-centered as a nation, we’ve latched onto the notion that opinion is everything. We’ve begun to believe that if enough of us give the stink-eye to Boko Haram, they’ll just return the girls. I’m going to lay the hard truth out.  Boko Haram doesn’t give a load of dingoes kidneys what your opinion of them is. In fact, as Islamist terrorists, every time someone repeats the mantra “Islam is a peaceful religion”, they’re going to do their best to prove you wrong, because they are not going to have their identity dictated by a bunch of infidels, (which is their opinion of YOU). This goes for Boko Haram, and Isis, and Al Kaida, and Al Shabab, and Hamas, and Abu Sayyaf, etc, etc, etc.

Opinion only matters if it brings people to action, and this is where the breakdown is. People who, before the advent of social media, might have gone out and done some small part to make things better, now feel that simply by sharing the post, or the hashtag, or wearing the t-shirt, they have done some good. People’s idea of making the world a better place now involves sitting in a circle staring at their navels and agreeing with each other that something should be done about this. Their social conscience is sated even as nothing is done. It’s time to log off of Facebook. It’s time to get off of Twitter. It’s time to really find out about the issues of the world out there, because it’s a very big place, and MSNBC and Fox News are not going to tell you ANYTHING about what it’s really like. There is so much social injustice out there that your choices are almost unlimited, and there’s something that almost anybody can do about it, in either a big or a small way. Just remember, opinion is nothing if it doesn’t lead to action.

This woman would and her children would have been dead of starvation in three months if real, non-virtual action had not been taken.
This woman and her children would have been dead of starvation in three months if real, non-virtual action had not been taken.

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